By John Martin
Special to The Sun
EDMOND — Senior Josh Birmingham made his last game at Wantland Stadium a memorable one as he tallied four touchdowns Saturday in leading the UCO Bronchos to a 49-42 victory over Lincoln College. Birmingham netted 130 yards rushing on 29 carries, added 43 yards receiving and another 20 on a kickoff return for 193 all-purpose yards.
The victory, a fitting climax for week-long Homecoming activities at UCO, was the first of the season for the Bronchos and snapped a nine-game losing streak stretching into last season.
The Bronchos will wrap up the current season with a Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association game in Boliver, Mo. against Southwest Baptist next week and then finish 2013 in Tahlequah against Northeastern Oklahoma State on Nov. 16.
UCO coach Nick Bobeck wasn't surprised at Birmingham's breakout performance.
"Josh has had a nagging calf injury which has slowed him down the past couple of games. With the open date last week, he was able to get well. We're proud of all the seniors. They've worked hard their entire careers, and there's nothing better than sending them off on a high note in their final home game," Bobeck said. The Bronchos honored the 10 seniors on the squad prior to kickoff.
Birmingham had touchdown runs of 14, 11, 16 and 4 yards to add to his school record totals for both touchdowns and all-purpose yards. With two games left in the season, he is 386 yards shy of the school's career rushing record.
Junior wide receiver Marquez Clark, who broke the school's record for most all-purpose yards in one season, broke the record with an 85-yard punt return. Clark caught nine passes for 165 yards and finished with 284 all-purpose yards on the day.
The Bronchos (1-7) controlled the game early, opening up a two-score lead after the first six minutes. Birmingham rushed 13 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, including a 14-yard score to cap UCO's first drive.
UCO extended its lead early in the second quarter. The Blue Tigers answered before halftime with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Morris to Andre Borney and a 76-yard touchdown run by Morris Henderson.
Birmingham scored his second touchdown late in the quarter, and UCO entered halftime with a 30-21 lead.
Second half shootout
The second half turned into an offensive shootout with the Bronchos staying on top, thanks to two late field goals by Seth Heddink, one of them a 41-yard beauty with 3:12 left in the contest to seal the victory.
With the strong emphasis on offense, sophomore defensive tackle Kenny Allen had a sack that thwarted the Blue Tigers (another opponent with a strange nickname) last gasp attempt with 59 seconds left in the contest. Allen also had a fumble recovery that set up Birmingham's final TD. Another sophomore defensive ace, Tanner Koons of Tuttle, had a pass interception that set up another UCO score.
Lincoln drew first blood in the second half but UCO answered with a five-play, 70-yard drive that featured a 33-yard completion from T. J. Eckert and runs of 11, 10 and the final 16 for his third TD to make it 37-28 after Heddink's PAT.
The Blue Tigers again pulled to within two with 7:46 left in the third period and appeared to be headed for the go-ahead score when Allen came up with the fumble to give the Bronchos a first down at the 39.
But Eckert, who replaced Adrian Nelson after the second series, was again equal to the task as he hit Clark for a 25-yard gain. After a 15-yard penalty, Eckert connected with Birmingham for 14 more to the six and two plays later, Birmingham had the 59th touchdown of his illustrious career and a 43-35 lead for UCO.
Heddink's two fourth quarter field goals were sandwiched around a Jacob Morris touchdown for Lincoln with 9:43 left to make it 46-42, but Heddink drove the final nail into the Blue Tigers' coffin with his 41-yarder.